HISTORY is taking an ironic twist here as authorities strive to
revive the collapsed economy.
This Baltic Sea city's destiny first took a sharp turn April 9,
1945, when the Red Army "liberated" it following a fierce fight
against Nazi troops, a battle that destroyed about 90 percent of
the center. Under the Potsdam Treaty on postwar Europe, the Soviet
Union annexed the city and surrounding territory, formerly known as
East Prussia - and the destruction continued.
To facilitate Sovietization, the new authorities obliterated
centuries of Germanic influence. In 1946, the city changed names
from Konigsberg to Kaliningrad, honoring the former Soviet chief of
state Mikhail Kalinin. Then, between 1947-48 virtually all German
civilians - more than 100,000 - were deported to what became East
But now regional officials are trying to restore what little
remains of the area's Germanic heritage, hoping to make it more
attractive for Western investment. Some landmarks that have lain in
ruins for years - such as a 13th Century cathedral where the
philosopher Immanuel Kant is buried - are undergoing restoration.
Authorities here profess loyalty to Russia, but they are focusing
on the West, especially Germany, to power the local recovery.
For its part, Moscow is not eager to help Kaliningrad lay the
groundwork for semi-integration with the West. Although Moscow
declared Kaliningrad a Free Economic Zone, it has done little else
to enhance the region's attractiveness to investors. Such action,
some Moscow officials say, could contribute to the breakup of the
Officials here argue that Kaliningrad's geographical position
makes it a natural bridge for trade with the West. The territory is
completely cut off from Russia proper, bordered by Lithuania,
Poland, and the Baltic Sea.
"We'd like to reintroduce this city into the ring of old
Hanseatic League cities," says Vladimir Toropov, deputy chief of
the Kaliningrad Region Administration, referring to the economic
alliance of Baltic Sea centers that thrived between the 13th and
15th centuries. But integration efforts have run into roadblocks.
Currently, Kaliningrad is wrangling with Moscow over a proposed law
that would grant the region special status. Kaliningrad officials
envision the draft law - now being discussed in parliamentary
committees - as giving the region economic autonomy, while
preserving political ties with Moscow.
But with Moscow struggling to contain several restless
autonomous republics - nominal ethnic homelands that are agitating
for greater sovereignty - many in Parliament are unreceptive to
Kaliningrad's bid to gain increased decisionmaking powers. …